He has not been the central character in a major motion picture like Billy Beane. He is not a front office version of a rock star like Theo Epstein. His nickname does not appear in headlines in the back pages of the tabloids like Brian Cashman (“Cash” for short).
All Brian Sabean does as the Giants' general manager is keep plugging along.
He finished his 16th season on the job this year, giving him the longest tenure of any current GM by one year over Beane. Most likely, only the most serious fans know that factoid, since Sabean doesn't curry favor with the media and generally avoids the spotlight.
Sabean also continues to push on in an age when the GM position has truly become a 24/7/365 endeavor, causing more than one executive to burn out after a few years. Sabean signed a one-year extension this week that keeps him under contract with the Giants through the 2013 season and includes a club option for 2014. He will have made it through 19 seasons should the Giants exercise the option, a remarkable feat in a job where the stress grows every year and the shelf life is short as owners invest heavily in their teams and demand immediate results.
"I don't take this extension lightly," Sabean said. "Baseball's a tough game."
Sabean puts great trust in his baseball operations staff and delegates authority to two highly respected lieutenants in vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans, who handles contract negotiations, among other tasks, and Dick Tidrow, who oversees scouting and player development aspects of the organization. That gives Sabean the time to concentrate on evaluating talent and making player moves.
"Brian has been put in a lot of different situations since he has been the general manager, and he has consistently put together good teams," said Giants team president Larry Baer, who will replace Bill Neukom as the club's chief executive officer at the end of the year. "You go through cycles in baseball, but under Brian, the good cycles have been longer than the bad cycles. He has done an outstanding job over the years of keeping us competitive on a consistent basis."
Sabean has been through plenty of offseasons, so he knows exactly what his Giants need as they attempt to return to the postseason in 2012 after following up their World Series title in 2010 by missing the playoffs in 2011. The Giants finished second to the Diamondbacks in the National League West, eight games back at 86-76.
"Our priority is more offense," Sabean said. "In finding more offense, we have to explore more options within, give due consideration to our players here first, our younger players, see whether they're ready to take over."
The Giants' 3.52 runs per game were last in the NL and next-to-last in the major leagues behind the Mariners’ 3.43. The Giants wasted a lot of good pitching, as their 3.57 runs allowed per game ranked second in the majors behind the Phillies’ 3.27.
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval (.312) and right fielder Carlos Beltran (.305) were the only regulars—or even semi-regulars—with True Averages over .275, and Beltran's was compiled in just 179 plate appearances after being acquired from the Mets in a late-July trade. Sandoval led the position players with 5.0 BWARP, and no one else had more than outfielder Nate Schierholtz's 1.3.
The Giants have already made one move this offseason in an effort to bolster their offense, acquiring center fielder Melky Cabrera from the Royals for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez. Cabrera had a .290 TAv with a 2.9 BWARP, but the Giants need a lot more than that to have a respectable offense, particularly if they are unable to re-sign Beltran as a free agent.
As the roster is currently composed, the Giants would likely have Brandon Crawford at shortstop, Brandon Belt in left field, and Schierholtz in right on Opening Day. They would like to upgrade at one or more of those positions but must do so while sticking to a $112-million payroll, which matches last season's closing figure.
The payroll limit dashes the hopes of signing a major free agent and either bringing in Jose Reyes or enticing Jimmy Rollins to come home to the Bay Area to play shortstop. And Sabean quashed the rumors that the Giants had been considering trading ace Tim Lincecum or right-hander Matt Cain, who can become a free agent after next season, in a blockbuster deal for some hitting at the Winter Meetings, which will be held next Monday-Thursday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.
"There won't be a big splash," Sabean said. "We are in concert with Larry Baer and our partnership that our pitching is our gold standard. Whatever we attempt, we have to make sure we take care of that commodity first. I think we created enough food for thought, and we have enough flexibility. It's just a matter of how well we execute or what presents itself [as] the best deal. I couldn't predict what direction we'll end up going."
It can also be said that it is hard to predict what will happen in Dallas, especially since the top of the free agent market has been moving excruciatingly slowly beyond the Phillies' signing of closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50-million contract. The Marlins made offers to Reyes and first baseman Albert Pujols as soon as the free agency period opened last month, but neither accepted. First baseman Prince Fielder and left-hander C.J. Wilson are also unsigned.
Many teams are likely to wait until the free agent logjam breaks before making trades, but a number of players could be dealt at the Winter Meetings, including White Sox left-hander John Danks, Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, Athletics left-hander Gio Gonzalez, Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, Angels catcher Jeff Mathis, Braves left fielder Martin Prado, and Rockies right fielder Seth Smith.